Why Isn’t the Church Speaking Out About Abortion?
‘Why isn’t the Church doing more to speak out against abortion and help women who have been hurt by abortion?’
This was a question posed to me and others on a hot topics panel at an 18-25s event earlier this year.
I was hugely encouraged by the question. It was encouraging that young adults want to talk about abortion. It was encouraging that they acknowledged that abortion is something Christians should oppose. And it was encouraging that they recognised we ought to speak out not just for the sake of the babies who lives are lost through abortion but also for the sake of the women whose lives are impacted negatively by abortion.
But alongside that encouragement, I also felt deeply challenged. Here was a young person expressing discontent that the Church is not expressing God’s heart of love and justice in relation to the heart-breaking reality of abortion. How often have I heard that discontent from older Christians, and especially from church leaders? Very rarely. My first response to the question was actually to say, ‘I agree’. Why isn’t the church talking? We should be.
Trapped by Fear?
There may be various reasons why the Church isn’t doing more, but I suspect a big reason is fear. We are fearful of what will happen if we do.
Some of these fears are probably wrong: for example, the fear that we’ll lose popularity or social respectability (as if Christians are ever meant to be popular or popularity should trump speaking up against injustice). Many of our fears might be good and understandable: fear of seeming judgemental, fear of causing pain to those who have been personally involved in an abortion, fear of handling a complex and emotive subject badly.
But these fears – even if understandable – leave us trapped. We know we should engage with this topic and yet we feel unable to do so. And so we don’t. In the meantime, those we lead are left without Christian teaching on the subject, abandoned to the perspectives of the world or to quasi-Christian prejudices. Women facing pregnancy crisis situations, and those alongside them, including men, don’t know where to turn for support or how to make decisions that honour God. And those who have been negatively impacted by abortion feel unable to seek help either because the church’s silence communicates that abortion is the unmentionable sin or because it abandons people to the world’s narrative where acknowledging any negative impact of abortion is a betrayal of women’s rights.
Instead of being trapped by our fear, we need to face our fears. Some of those fears will be things we need to reject – things we shouldn’t be prioritising over speaking out for the wellbeing of babies, mothers and fathers – others will be things we need to allow to impact how we engage, but not to stop us from engaging. Our good fears should lead us to engage wisely; they shouldn’t stop us from engaging at all.
Learning to engage wisely
What does wise engagement look like?
It looks like doing our research and understanding the complexities – the many different factors that can drive people to seek an abortion and the many potential negative impacts of abortion on the mother and those around them.1
It looks like taking a wholistic view – recognising that we must speak out for the sake of babies in the womb, but we also speak out for the sake of women who are often negatively impacted by abortion. As it is sometimes helpfully summarised, ‘Both lives matter’.2
It looks like learning to engage with compassion and humility. Before we can engage publicly, we need to be moved privately, moved by the plight of babies in the womb, by the women who feel abortion is their only option, and moved by the women (and men) negatively impacted by abortion. Any head response needs to be first impacted by a God-shaped heart response. And we engage with humility. Of all people, we should be able to call out what is wrong and yet do so in a way that is not judgemental and that doesn’t leave people trapped in shame. The gospel – its impact on us and its offer to others – is what enables us to engage with true compassion and humility.
And it looks like engaging practically. We need to speak out against abortion, but we can’t only speak out. We must also act: act to see the situations and circumstances that drive people to abortions change; act to educate people about the reality of life in the womb; act to see support offered to those negatively impacted by abortion. Ultimately, we want to engage practically to see abortion become both unthinkable and unnecessary.3
A challenge to the Church
The question posed by a young person at that event is a challenge to us. Maybe it’s a question many of us need to ask ourselves. If we do, and we’re honest, we might well find that we’ve been trapped by fear. In the process, we’ve left others in the same situation: those facing crisis pregnancies can be left trapped in fear that they can’t cope with bearing or parenting a child, and they become trapped in thinking that abortion is their only option; those experiencing some of the negative impacts of abortion are trapped in their pain, fearful of talking about their experience and how others, perhaps especially Christians, might respond. If we allow ourselves to be trapped, others are left trapped too.
It’s time for us to face our fears so we can engage in wisdom.
- 1. A short but very helpful book that acknowledges these complexities well is Lizzie Lang, Abortion (The Good Book Company, 2020).
- 2. The idea that abortion often negatively impacts women is controversial but, I think, justified. On medical risks and mental health, see ‘Abortion: Risks and complications’ and ‘Abortion and Mental Health’, CMF. For real-life stories sharing a range of experience of abortion, see ‘Abortion Stories’, Pregnancy Choices Directory.
- 3. For examples of organisations that can help churches think about one form of practical engagement, see Pregnancy Centres Network and OPEN.